Ten Sports has offered an olive branch. But just for the match on Saturday. “Just-for-one-day!” That’s what the Dubai-based cable TV company shouted over roof tops at the end of a long day and two reverses in the high court. So, once Saturday’s scorcher is through, the drama will be back at the Supreme Court: Monday is another day.
The upshot? Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati (Doordarshan) will beam live pictures of the Sachin versus Shoaib border battle even though it is Ten Sports who has the rights. An elated DD seemed to have tasted blood. “We’ll insert our own ads on Ten’s feed,” Prasar Bharti CEO KS Sarma told FE citing legal opinion at his disposal. On his part, Ten Sports legal eye Kapil Sibal counselled restraint. “It’s all about a contract, how can we give it away for free!”
Oblivious of these technicalities, those watching terrestrial TV looked thrilled. Those worried about broadcaster’s rights and the so-called “dangerous precedents” of Big Brother invoking national interest on similar grounds in the future didn’t count. Friday just wasn’t their day.
Meanwhile, in a quiet corner, radio was shining. In fact, All India Radio, Prasar Bharti’s other child, was suffering an embarrassment of riches. Ten had parted with its radio rights for as little at $40,000. With 240 transmitters in their arsenal, Prasar Bharati’s marketing men told FE that they could sew up Airtel, Dabur, Bharat Petroleum and Pepsodent in no time at all. Anchors such as Harsha Bhogle have eagerly joined special programming planned for mid-innings.
Even half-hour updates on frequency modulation (FM) haven’t had difficulty in finding sponsors.
For AIR, the only catch is that the signal has to be on medium wave (MW). Now, haven’t the city types and daily commuters migrated to FM? They have, but as Big River Radio managing director Sunil Khanna put it “the behavioural problem in the big cities will be sorted out by hit and trial until you reach the (MW) frequency. In small towns this isn’t an issue anyway.”
The bounty isn’t limited to AIR. Even fringe players like the private FM radio players — they can’t air news, but analysis is allowed — reported “significant sponsorship interest.”
As for DD, it’s “national interest” argument seemed to cut ice with the Chennai and Mumbai high courts. Both courts directed Ten, the exclusive rights holder, to part with the signal. Ten countered with what it thought was a googly. It called the media late afternoon to say that the signal will be shared, but only with DD’s low powered transmitters (LPTs).
Back-of-the-envelope calculations showed that DD’s 1,150-odd LPTs cover 10-20 sq km apiece. So, a country of 3.28 million square km would have had terrestrial signals encompassing 20,000 km. A no-brainer from an anxious government’s perspective. “Unacceptable,” government negotiators said.
But Ten wasn’t ready to give up yet. By the evening it was knocking on the Supreme Court’s door. The SC heard them, a verdict was slotted for 2130 hours, before a deferment cooled things down until Monday. Ten, meanwhile, decided to announce the olive branch for Saturday.
Sarma’s views so far? “We’ll show the matches from tomorrow across the country.” And as for a deal with Ten “where’s the need for a deal? We’re going by the court orders.”
The Chennai bench has asked Prasar Bharati to deposit an unspecified amount towards payment to Ten Sports for the revenue that it would receive for including its advertisements during the telecast.
Additional solicitor general, V T Gopalan, sought time to consult his client about the amount to be deposited. He argued that there was no need to deposit any amount because Ten Sports would benefit from the telecast by DD.
Ten Sports won the terrestrial, cable, radio and DTH rights for all the matches to be played under the supervision of the Pakistan Cricket Board during 2002-7 for $45 million. DD did not bid, because it never anticipated that India would be involved in any matches in the region during this period. The winner of these rights automatically controls any bonanza matches like the series in question.